In a game that saw Dwight Howard ejected in the middle of the third quarter, the Thunder were able to overcome the nefarious Houston Rockets, 116-108. Once Howard exited the game, Enes Kanter was able to score 20 of his 22 points. The Rockets simply had no one big enough to compete with Kanter in the paint. Meanwhile, the Thunder went small with Durant at power forward for about 9 minutes of the second half, and this really helped out their perimeter defense. The Rockets only hit two threes in the second half, after hitting seven threes in the first half.
Kevin Durant was the Thunder's leading scorer, with 33 points. That's tied for Durant's third highest scoring performance this season. The points came from all over the floor, with Durant using an array of moves to get past Trevor Ariza. Durant's favorite spot was the elbow for sure, as he got numerous points in the post-up or off of screens. There was also the usual plays for threes, which have Durant pop off a screen or shoot around a screen. But I also saw Durant get a number of hustle points just by running to the rim, which was a bit unusual. If Durant did struggle at all, it was due to pressure at various times. But the Thunder cut down on KD's ballhandling, and it certainly paid off. Always nice when Durant can just focus on scoring, and doesn't need to cue in on defense or distributing.
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How did the Thunder win this game?
After the 10:57 mark of the fourth quarter, the Thunder didn't let their lead get smaller than 6. It definitely felt like the Thunder had control of the game from that point on, but the Rockets were certainly lurking close enough to make you worried. The Thunder had Kanter at center for the duration of the quarter, and it showed on their interior defense. The Rockets shot 4 of 6 inside the paint. The Rockets also had 11 free throws during the quarter. But the Rockets couldn't get their offense going anywhere else. Houston shot just 2 of 17 from outside the paint in the fourth.
On the other end, OKC was just a bunch of Enes Kanter. There were a couple KD moves, a Morrow three, a Waiters finesse layup and a Singler drive. But that all pales in comparison to Kanter's 14 fourth quarter points. The Thunder ran a pretty quick offense, opting to run with the Rockets. It worked out, as Houston was consistently trying to force turnovers. By not allowing Houston to get organized, OKC won out a lot of offensive possessions.
Why was Dwight Howard ejected?
It was a frustrating game for Dwight. First of all, he had to deal with Steven Adams. There were a couple of plays where Howard scored on Adams, but overall Howard was just 1 of 5 against Adams. Generally, Adams did a good job of keeping Howard away from the rim and forcing Howard into a long hook.
Howard was also just having a bad game in general. Early in the first, Dwight was called for a three second violation. That was only the beginning of Howard's mental mistakes. With three minutes to go in the third, Singler got a bit physical with Howard on a rebound. Howard responded by bear hugging Singler. This got Howard his first technical.
Less than a minute later, Coach Donovan ordered Kyle Singler to foul Dwight Howard. This was the beginning of the classic "Hack-a-Dwight" strategy. The Thunder used "Hack-a-Howard" on four of the last seven plays of the half. Howard went 2 of 8 from the free throw line during that stretch, and the Thunder pulled from within four to within three. It didn't do so much for the score, but it did continue the theme of a difficult game for Dwight.
Fast forward to the third, and Dwight Howard's game hasn't improved much. Howard was 0 of 2 from the line, and 0 of 2 from the floor. With 7:43 remaining, Westbrook fouls Howard hard at the rim to prevent the layup. Howard talks through the event, and makes two free throws. On the next two possessions, Steven Adams touches Dwight Howard on both rebounds. Howard doesn't like it, and turns to complain to the ref after James Harden made a layup. The ref called the second technical on Howard, and he was out of the game.
Donovan's Lineup Chess
Coach Donovan tried the "twin towers" lineup for the last 3:46 of the first quarter, playing Kanter at power forward with Adams at Center. Kanter was matched up with Josh Smith, and did a good job to force two misses from Smith. But the Rockets were also able to get a couple of threes just passing the ball around. At the end of the day, the lineup was a bad idea, as it turned a four point deficit into a nine point deficit. But gosh did that lineup make it so easy for Westbrook and Durant to work around screens.
KD, Augustin, and Westbrook were in a lineup together for about seven minutes of the second quarter. Augustin was able to find Westbrook after rebounding while on the break. And Augustin also had a three from KD's pressure. However, Harden dropped 7 on the Thunder before they went to Hack-a-Dwight. So that lineup variation didn't work out either.
In the end, as I mentioned above, what seemed to work for the Thunder was going small with KD at power forward. This gave the Thunder the size they needed on the perimeter, while not giving up too much on the rebounding end.
A Tale of Two Halves for Westbrook
In the first half, Russell Westbrook functioned primarily as a scorer. Westbrook had 22 points on just 13 shots. There were only 5 assists to go with those 22 points, which shows you where Westbrook's focus was. The Rockets were giving Westbrook the jumper most of the time, and Westbrook was able to get to the paint in transition.
During the second half, Westbrook went 0-7 from the field. But Westbrook also had 9 assists. Basically, Westbrook was focused on increasing the pace of the offense during the second half. So when Westbrook did shoot, it was early in the shot clock. And when Westbrook passed, it was with the intention of scoring. For the most part, Westbrook read what the defense gave him. With the Rockets playing so small, they were definitely hunting for steals. Three of those assists were to Kanter in the post, and three more were to Durant in transition and on the perimeter. Ibaka, Waiters, and Singler all got an assist from Westbrook as well.
All in all, Westbrook had a triple double tonight, his sixth of the season!
- Serge Ibaka had a really frustrating game. On the good side, Ibaka made a jumper, dished a three to Morrow on the perimeter, and had a couple of nasty blocks at the rim. But otherwise, Ibaka had trouble finding space on offense, missing six shots. Worse still, Ibaka committed two offensive fouls while trying to set a screen.
- Dion Waiters was really "sink or swim" when it came to putting the clamps on James Harden. When Harden went to the post up, it seems as if Dion had the advantage. But when it came to facing up, particularly when Harden got the ball on the weak side, Harden had the advantage. Regardless, Waiters was an offensive boon. In the paint, waiters was 3 of 4. From the corner threes, Waiters was 2 of 4. From mid-range, Waiters was 1 of 1. And that mid-range shot came in open space from a KD assist. Can you really ask any more of this guy? Honestly, he's reminding me more of Harden every day. Minus the assists and terrible defense.
- Speaking of Harden, Harden did a lot of his work in transition.
- Speaking of transition, Corey Brewer was absolutely insane when both teams ran the floor. Dude is like an Olympic track athlete, sprinting straight for the rim.
- I've spoke on Adams defense of Howard, but he also had 10 rebounds. Props!
- Kyle Singler was a workhorse tonight. I saw Singler give up a few threes, but he was always attentive. Offensively, Singler had this really nice play where he ran inside from the three point line for an And 1. Other than that, he missed two layups off of offensive rebounds, and missed a couple corner threes. Oh well, did what he needed to do.
- Anthony Morrow went 2 of 4 from three, and I didn't notice any bad defense from him.
- D.J. Augustin did his best job to become a conduit for moving the ball. Five assists and no turnovers. Two of the assists were to Kanter.
- 40 minutes for KD, 37 for Westbrook. Bleh....
- I like how Westbrook was able to just stop mid-court and draw two separate fouls just because Beverley was hounding him so much. Well played.
- Beverley was booed a ton. So was Harden...at least, when Harden got questionable calls.
- Clint Capela actually score 8 points once Howard left the game. He was just open at the rim when the Thunder would send help defense.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, for setting the pace
Thunder Down Under: Enes Kanter, for taking advantage of what was given to him
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka. Just wish those jumpers would go down
Thunder Plunderer: James Harden, free throw cyborg
Next Game: Versus the Washington Wizards, Monday, February 2nd, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!